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Judicial Task Force Releases Final Report on State Courts’ Response to Mental Illness

Funded by State Justice Insititute, the Judicial Task Force releases the final report from the National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Courts’ Response to Mental Illness. Continued collaboration between the courts, government agencies, mental health providers and others is critical to affect the systemic change needed to improve how courts respond to individuals with serious mental illness. That was the message echoed during Tuesday’s release of the final report from the National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Courts’ Response to Mental Illness. The virtual event drew about 900 participants, including court officials, behavioral health professionals, and members of the news media.

“We see how the justice system can become a never-ending highway of pain as it maneuvers people on a needless journey, with no off ramp, often to ineffective support and treatment,” said task force member Circuit Judge Nan Waller of Multnomah County, Oregon. “However, having had the privilege to serve on the task force has given me great optimism. The task force operated in a manner consistent with its recommendations, bringing together stakeholders from the behavioral health and justice systems, along with the important voices of those with lived experience, and then providing expert staff to help turn our thoughts and ideas into tools, bench cards, policy briefs, and research.”

Judge Waller joined task force co-chairs Chief Justice Paul L. Reiber of Vermont and New York Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks to offer insights on ways the task force recommendations can positively impact individuals with severe mental illness during Tuesday’s virtual launch and policy discussion.

Two national mental health experts – Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., the U.S. Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and leader of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Dr. Sarah Y. Vinson, Interim Chair of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Morehouse School of Medicine – elaborated on ways the behavioral health community can partner with the courts to improve outcomes for individuals with serious mental illness.

“We know that our country is facing a mental health crisis,” Dr. Delphin-Rittmon said. “… I am confident that these recommendations and examples of successful programs have the potential to make really meaningful impacts in communities across the country.”

Among the task force recommendations, state courts should:

  • Convene justice and behavioral health system partners to identify opportunities to collaboratively improve responses to individuals with behavioral health disorders.
  • Promote processes to identify and divert individuals with behavioral health disorders at every stage of system involvement towards treatment and away from further penetration into the criminal justice system.
  • Examine current case management and calendaring practices and implement strategies to more quickly and effectively address issues presented in cases involving individuals with behavioral health needs.

Watch the recording of the webinar and download a copy of the final report and recommendations.